Monday, 28 December 2009

Cotaparamba & Montana Forts. Arthur Wellesley & the Pazhassi Rajah

Figure 1. Google Earth Image showing the locations of Cotaparamba and Montana. Click on the image for a larger version.

During the wars against the Pazhassi Raja some of the fiercest battles occurred at the foot of the Ghats around the modern towns of Koothuparamba and Mattanur.

At the commencement of the early 19th Century these small towns were minor settlements that became the sites of East India Company [EIC] forts called Cotaparamba and Montana. These forts commanded strategic cross roads on the main routes from the coast towards Coorg, the Wayanad, and Mysore.

These routes were vital to the EIC armies strategic mobility, because they had previously enabled the EIC Army to threaten Tipu Sultan's Mysore from the west coast in 1792 and 1799 as well as from the Coast of Coromandel. These tracks were also used by Brinjarries [1] to transport salt into the interior in exchange for rice and grain from Coorg and Mysore.

The forts were located right in the middle of the Pazhassi Rajah's home territory, and were situated along tracks previously cut by Tipu Sultan's army that the British intended to turn into defensive stop lines in order to prevent attacks by the Rajah against the Anjarakandy [2] pepper estates recently established by the EIC and Murdoch Brown. These tracks would also enable patrols to cut the Raja off from his sources of supply base located in his former possessions.

The battles around these key strategic sites at the foot of the Ghats in the Pazhassi Rajah's home territory were prolonged and gave Colonel Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington considerable cause for concern at the time.

The purpose of this blog is to try to see if any remains of these two forts still remain in-situ?

If you happen to read this blog and you live nearby to either of these two locations, I would be very grateful if you would have a look at the following locations when next you pass by.

It is entirely possible that traces of the sites of two of the fiercest battles fought by the Pazhassi Rajah against troops under the command of the future Duke of Wellington survive in the form of earthworks or ruins of former foundations.

We have several descriptions of Cotaparamba Fort, and the best that I have found so far is that provided by Col. James Welsh written in 1821.

"On the 6th of February 1821, I was appointed by Sir Thomas Munro to command the provinces of Malabar and Canara, vacant by the death of Lieutenant-colonel Lindsey. The principal part of the journey being through places already mentioned, I shall pass over the whole till we left the foot of the Periah Pass, when proceeding by a new road to Cannanore, we arrived first at Canote, twelve miles from the bungalow at Nuddumbrseshawle; our old friend Mr. Baber, the Circuit Judge, having kindly come out to meet us the day before. This is a small place on the high road, with a little bridge over a small mountain stream ; and it is in a wild and beautiful spot, abounding with all kinds of game.

Our next march was to Cotaparamba, eight miles onward, an old square fort, on a commanding eminence, having a house in each of the bastions, and a delightful view in every direction. The Pioneers doing duty in Malabar and Canara, were at that time stationed at this place, under Lieutenant Rowley; and from it's height above the surrounding country, and more above the level of the sea, it must be both cool and healthy. Half-way between this place and Cannanore, there is a wide and deep river, over which a capital stone bridge was' erected a few years back by Captain Ravenshaw, of the Engineers; and the high road, which formerly went round some miles by Tellicherry, had now been made to pass directly through it."

Figure 2. Possible Location of Cotaparamba Fort.
Click on the image for a larger version.

Lieutenants Ward and Conner also describe this fort, however they transcribed the name rather differently as Tullaparambu rather than Cotaparamba. Perhaps they found it had to turn the Malayalam into English.

The settlement that Ward and Conner called Kotium or Kotangady is known today as Kottayam.

"Kotium also called Kotangady, from a Moplah Bazar and mosques to the S. of another palace, belonging to the Pychee Rajah, at present in a neglected state, to the E. of it is a sheet [of] deep water about 1/2 a mile around - it lies N.E. 6 1/2 miles of Tellicherry. Tullaparambu on the high road to the Peria Pass lies one mile E. of Kotium - there is a small redoubt with 4 bastions, on two of them bungalows are built for the accommodation of travellers, to S. is a street of Bazars kept mostly by herdsmen and natives of the Eastern Coast. The roads from Cannanore and Tellicherry meet at this post."[4]

From the following Google Earth Image onto which I have superimposed a scale line one mile long, clearly shows that Tullaparambu. or Cotaparamba are the same location, and that it is very likely that the fort stood where the modern rectangular compound is located.

What is this compound used for today?

Is it a school, or perhaps the site of a mosque?

Was it perhaps formerly a temple?

Did the EIC take over and fortify a former temple site perhaps?

Figure 3. Google Earth Image showing the relationship between Cotaparambu and Kotium or Kottayam, as well as a one mile scale line superimposed onto the image. The former Kottayam Palace that had belonged to the Pazhassi Rajah and its associated lake can clearly be seen as described by Ward & Conner.
Click on the image for a larger version.

These two forts appear to have been built at the express command of Arthur Wellesley, the future Duke of Wellington. In late March 1800, Wellesley had travelled west from Seringapatam through Coorg and down the pass to Cannanore. He was in command of troops operating in South Mahratta Country, Coorg, Canara and the Northern Malabar.

He reached Cannanore on the 3rd of April, and like many travellers coming down the ghats from Coorg, which he had thought similar to Ireland, he felt the greatly increased heat and humidity on the coast.

"Colonel the Hon. A. Wellesley to Lieut. Colonel Close.

' My Dear Colonel, ' Cannanore, 3rd April, 1800.

I arrived here this morning, having been on the road one day longer than I expected. I found the weather exceedingly hot, and a want of water upon the road to refresh the followers and cattle obliged me to make two marches, where, under other circumstances, I should have made only one. We have, however, had rain nearly every night since I left Seringapatam.

I met here Mr. Smee and Captain Moncrieffe. The former has induced some of the nairs, under his influence, Kydree Amboo at their head, to commence to open a road from Cotaparamba by Mananderry to Tutucullum and Canote, and another by Pyche to Montana; the latter will not be difficult, as Tippoo had made one on the same line formerly. It is intended, if possible, before the rains, to establish a post at Canote, and another at Montana, to connect them by a road directly across from one to the other, and by another road between them by Perrywell, which last requires only to be opened. Mr. Smee has no doubt but that the nairs will effect these objects; and in order to facilitate them, I have sent in the pioneers and 1200 of the coolies, which had been hired for the expedition. If the Pyche Rajah is disposed to make an opposition to this measure (which Smee and Moncriefi'e think he will not), it must then be given over ; as all parties agree that the force in this country is not sufficient to carry it through. If it should be necessary to give over the plan, Smee does not apprehend that the Company's influence will be diminished in consequence of the failure, and as every yard of road which is made is so much gained towards effecting the great object, I have, upon the whole, thought it a measure which ought to be attempted. Excepting thirty men employed in guarding Kydree Amboo's house, not a sepoy will be engaged in the operation; so that however anxiously I may look forward for its success, I do not conceive that the honour of the Company's arms will be engaged in it. As soon as the roads will have been completed; or if it should be necessary to discontinue them, or, at all events, at the commencement of the monsoon, the coolies will be employed in carrying provisions to Cotaparamba, where I understand there are sheds and buildings sufficient to contain provisions for 3000 men for two months. If it, should be possible to make posts at Montana and Canote, they must, in the first instance, be held by the friendly nairs till we can move forward our provisions, first for a garrison, next for the number of men, and for the time above stated.

It will be a curious circumstance, if without troops we should be able to effect objects which it was imagined the largest detachment which could conveniently be brought together could not undertake; but it is to be observed that they will be effected by the nairs themselves, with the assistance of our people, and not by our force.

I have heard from Colonel Mignan that he had received a report from the officer commanding the post at Soobramany, stating that Kistnapah Naig had beat the Rajah's troops, and had taken Munserabad on the 24th of March. As I have not heard from you, or from Colonel Tolfrey, I conclude that there is no truth in the report; but if it should be true, we must only send off the flank companies of the 77th, now at Seringapatam, in readiness to march to Tolfrey's assistance, with orders to storm Munserabad.

I enclose a copy of Colonel Mignan's letter.

Believe me, &c. ' Lieut. Colonel Close. ' ' Arthur Wellesley.[5]

Arthur Wellesley went on to visit Tellicherry during this journey. His presence at Tellicherry is demonstrated by the following letter that he wrote on the 9th of April 1800 concerning the minting of new coinage.

To W. H. Gordon, Esq.

SlR, Tellicherry, 9th April, 1800.

I have received your report upon the proposed coinage of the Bengal gold mohurs and Soolack rupees in your treasury into Rajah's pagodas and rupees. By this it appears that, valuing the Rajah's pagoda at 8 per cent. above the star, each gold mohur will produce 4 star pagodas 16 fanams 11 1/2 cash, and more if the difference in value be increased.

It appears that by coining the Soolack rupees into Rajah's rupees, a loss will be incurred of about 5| per cent., supposing the Soolack rupee to be now worth as much as the Rajah's, which is not the case. As, however, upon the whole, the loss will be the less to the Company if the gold mohurs and Soolack rupees are recoined as above mentioned than if they are issued to the troops in their present form, and as to issue them in Rajah's pagodas and rupees will be more convenient, I request that you will have them recoined.

I have, &c.,

Arthur Wellesley.

On the 10th of April 1800, Colonel Wellesley rode out to Cotaparamba, which he describes as follows..

"I went this morning to Cotaparamba, which is a neat little mud redoubt about nine miles from hence. It contains buildings which will hold a large quantity of provision and ammunition, with which, please God, they shall be filled in a few days. The road-making goes on well, and has not been interrupted. On the day after to-morrow I shall occupy Pyche fort on the Montana road, and Monanderry pagoda on that leading to Canote, and I hope in a few days afterwards to be able to take possession of the posts, which will be constructed at Montana and Canote."[7]

By the 13th of April 1800 Colonel Wellesley had moved back to Cannanore Fort.

Whilst there he wrote the following long letter and memorandum of instruction to Lt. Colonel Sartorius. In this memo he clearly instructs Sartorius to construct the two posts at Cotaparamba and Montana.

To Lieutenant-Colonel Sartorius.

Sir, Cannanore, 13th April, 1800.

I have received your letter of the 9th instant, and have taken into consideration its enclosures regarding the claim of the Moplahs to be retained in the Company's service till after the monsoon.

In my opinion they have no foundation whatever for such a claim ; and even if the inconveniences to be apprehended were greater than that stated by Lieutenant Osborne in his letter, I should think they ought to be discharged. To act otherwise would tend to disclose to the Moplahs the plans of Government for a future season, would answer no good purpose, would be expensive, and is not rendered necessary by the engagement entered into by you. This engagement states that the Moplahs are to receive two months' pay after the expiration of the war, that is to say, after the period when their services are no longer required, and they are discharged. In my opinion, they are discharged at this moment; and although they may be wanted again, their entering the service will depend upon themselves, and will be the consequence of another bargain to be made with them. They ought therefore in justice to receive the two months' pay from the day on which they were discharged from the service. It is true that this sudden discharge was not in contemplation when the bargain was made, but that by no means alters its tenor.

The desire which I have that all engagements made with the natives should be strictly adhered to, and the probability which exists that the services of these Moplahs will soon be required again, induce me to wish that they should receive their pay for two months from the day on which they were informed that their services would not be required. But it appears that they do not deem that they have a claim to this allowance; but they ask to be kept in the service in the expectation of being employed after the rains.

If that should be the case, it will be clear that they did not understand that the Company was bound to pay them for two months after their discharge, excepting they had been in the field. It will not then be necessary to pay them.

Upon the whole, I request that you will act as you. think proper; and I give you my opinion that if the Moplahs think themselves entitled to two months' pay, they ought to get it, as there is no doubt that by the engagement they are entitled to it.

I have, &c.,

Arthur Wellesley.

Memoranda for Colonel Sartorius.

1. As soon as possible, it will be proper that a sufficiency of grain for two months for 3000 Natives, and of arrack for the same period for 800 Europeans, and a large quantity of musket ammunition, should be placed in Cotaparamba.

2. When the roads will be completed to Montana by Pyche, and to Tutucullum or Canote by Mananderry, posts are to be established at Montana and Canote, and they are to be held by detachments of the Company's troops. A road is to be made, if possible, direct from Montana to Canote.

3. Although these posts may be established, and held, it will be proper that a small detachment should remain in Pyche Fort and in Mananderry, in order to secure the communication between Cotaparamba and the new posts.

4. When the posts at Montana and Canote and the necessary buildings will have been finished, and the road between them completed, it will be proper to move forward to those posts the grain and provisions and ammunition above requested to be laid in at Cotaparamba.

5. It will be proper that there should be at least one gun, if not two, in each of the posts at Canote and Montana.

6. As it is said that the Pyche Rajah will endeavour to prevent the making of the proposed roads to Montana and to Canote, it will not be proper under the present circumstances to risk a contest to force it: but at whatever place the road may have arrived when he will attempt to stop it, it will be proper to construct a redoubt, provided the situation is fit for it; and this redoubt must be kept filled with stores, &c., &c., in the same manner as above requested with regard to the posts to be established at Canote and Montana.

7. After the posts will have been completed at Canote and Montana, it will be proper, if possible, to continue the road on to Pereweil, and in a direction which will be pointed out by Captain Moncrieff.

8. There are two rivers on the road between Cotaparamba and Montana, and one or two on that to Canote. These rivers are not fordable during the rainy season. It will be proper to have a jungar upon each of them, platformed as is that between Tellicherry and Cotaparamba. As in case an attempt should be made upon either of these posts, the jungars would immediately be destroyed in order to prevent assistance from reaching them, it will be proper that a certain number of boats, platforms, &c., should be laid up in Cotaparamba in order to avoid the inconvenience of waiting till boats to cross the rivers could be brought from the coast.

9. It will be proper to reinforce Cotaparamba, in order that the commanding officer there may be able to give assistance to any of the posts in advance which may be attacked.

10. A few of the Bombay coolies will be kept during the rainy season.

11. As there are no arms at Mangalore, as the troops there are employed in the field, and their arms are totally unserviceable, I request that Colonel Sartorius will send to Mangalore from the arsenal at Cannanore 300 stand of arms.

12. The troops stationed in the Cotiote country may be supposed at all times liable to be attacked ; their arms are in bad order, and they ought to have new arms without delay.

Arthur Wellesley.

It is clear from the memorandum above that Cotaparamba was going to be an important forward operating base during the months to come. The monsoon would arrive in the area within a few weeks, and he wished to get his troops into cover by then. He also needed to ensure that his men had supplies because it would become very difficult to supply them once the rivers filled with the runoff from the Monsoon.

Wellesley wrote to Bombay to explain his thinking behind the recent orders he had given to Lieut. Col. Sartorius.

The Pazhassi Rajah was already an experienced proponent of guerilla warfare, at least a decade before the term came into common usage in Spain, where Arthur Wellesley later supported Spanish irregular forces against Napoleon's armies. It is highly probable that Wellesley's experience of being on the receiving end of "guerilla" attacks, by the Pazhassi Rajah's adherents, would influence his thinking in Spain a decade later.

Wellesley and his predecessors had been trying to bring the Rajah to battle since 1797, and like most regular troops faced by guerilla attacks, they had found this very hard to do.

It is quite possible that Arthur Wellesley in April 1800, was beginning to come to terms with fighting insurgents, and had decided to try to force the Rajah into battle by building these roads and forts into the heartland of the Rajah's former territories. In this way perhaps he hoped to force the Rajah to come out of the jungle to attack these forts and road building parties.

To the Adjutant-General, Bombay.

Sir, Seedapoor, 17th April, 1800.

Since I had the honour of addressing the Secretary of Government, the roads which I then stated were making have been completed to Pyche and to Mananderry. These posts were to be occupied by the Company's troops.

There was every reason to believe that the roads would soon be completed to Montana and to Canote, at which places I have directed that redoubts and buildings for containing provisions and stores may be constructed, and that the two posts may be connected by a road across from the one to the other.

I have desired that a large quantity of provisions and ammunition may be thrown into Cotaparamba without loss of time ; and as soon as the posts at Montana and Canote will be constructed and connected with each other, and held by the Company's troops, these articles will be removed to them. Pyche and Mananderry will still be kept during the rains, in order to secure and render more easy the communication between Cotaparamba and the more advanced posts at Montana and Canote ; and I have directed Colonel Sartorius to place platformed jungars [9] upon the rivers which cross the roads, and are not fordable during the monsoon. He will besides place boats, &c., in Cotaparamba, in order that in case any attempt should be made on the advanced posts, and the jungars should be destroyed to prevent them from receiving relief, it may be possible to ford them without waiting for boats to be sent for from the sea-coast.

In this manner arrangements have been made for establishing and securing posts in the centre of the Cotiote country, which will materially forward the operations of the troops at the opening of the ensuing season.

The pioneers under Captain Moncrieff were tasked with cutting the roads to link up the forts at Cotaparamba and Montana. They were soon coming under attack from the Pazhassi Rajah's men.

Captain Ward commanded the base at Cotaparamba, and he was expected to support and maintain contact with the working parties on the new road and at Fort Montana.

It appears that the fort at Montana came under siege during the period between May and August 1800. Reinforcements had to be sent up from the coast at Cannanore, and these were commanded by Major Holmes.

The first of these relief columns must have fought their way through in late July or early August 1800.

"Provincial Orders, Cananore, Aug. 8, 1800.

Col. Sartorious requests Maj. Holmes will accept his warmest thanks for his zealous and active exertions in the relief of Montana. The commanding-officer's sincere thanks are also due to the whole of the officers and men employed, for their gallant and steady conduct, as reported by Maj. Holmes; without which, the obstacles they had to encounter could not have been overcome, in performing the services they have effected."

The following dispatch by Wellesley describes the campaign he hoped to fight.

"Colonel the Hon. A. Wellesley to Lieut. Colonel Close.

My DEAR Colonel, Camp at Kittoor, 10th August, 1800.

I omitted to answer one part of your letter of the 1st instant regarding Reyman Beg, the prisoner at Nundydroog. In my opinion, unless Baba Saheb gives his consent, he cannot be punished, but that may probably be obtained through the means of Captain Kirkpatrick.

Nothing new here. Stevenson is crossing the Malpoorba at Kanapoor, and I am making preparations to cross it at Sungoly. If my native friends were a little alert, I should have twenty boats ready to-morrow.

I heard from Webbe last night, and I am very much concerned to find that he is not going to Poonah. Among other things, he informs me that the five companies of the 12th, and the 2nd of the 5th,. are coming up the ghauts, as he says, to enable me to oppose the Rajahs in Malabar. I have already ordered these corps to Seringapatam, there to remain encamped under the Caryghaut hill till further orders; and I have ordered guns to be equipped for them at that place, and every thing else to be prepared.

The question is, in what manner shall they be employed against the Rajahs in Malabar? In my opinion they ought to go below the ghauts as soon as the weather will permit, if Purneah's people are able to keep the Rajah at all within bounds on the Mysore side of Wynaad; and if I hear from you that that is the case, I shall order them to Cannanore without loss of time. The season will be fair by the time that they will receive my orders, after I shall have heard from you.

If they are to oppose the Pyche Rajah on the side of Wynaad, they must, I am afraid, remain on the defensive, as they are not sufficiently strong by themselves to enter that jungly country; and I am besides informed that it will be impossible to commence operations in it till the month of November.

It may be possible to open the campaign early in Cotiote, and push forward the roads, and establish ourselves at the foot, if not on the top, of the ghauts; and then, if I am in luck, I shall have settled matters here before November, and can march down to Wynaad, and settle matters there before the setting in of the next rains.

Let me hear from you as soon as you can respecting the ability of Purneah's troops to confine the Rajah to his jungles.

Believe me, etc. ' Lieut. Colonel Close. ' Arthur Wellesley.

Kistnapah arrived this morning. The 19th not come yet.'

Wellesley was annoyed that the bush hadn't been cut back far enough on either side of the roads between the camps, to allow for sufficient fields of fire for escorting parties, to be able to fight their way through.

"Colonel the Hon. A. Wellesley to Lieut. Colonel Close.

' My Dear Colonel, ' Camp at Hoobly, 20th August, 1800.

I return the papers from Major Walker. I had before received accounts from Malabar of the relief of the two posts. These roads will not answer unless they do as I desired them at first; that is, cut the underwood to a considerable distance on each side of the road. I have ordered Sartorius to employ the pioneers and coolies on this work immediately, as whatever may be the plan for the next campaign, the communication with Montana must be made secure, or all will be lost. It will be fortunate if Purneah can check the Nairs on the Mysore side; if he cannot, the 12th and 2nd of the 5th must go that way.

If he can check them they shall go to Malabar; and I will send orders to begin by pushing the roads to the foot of the ghauts. Major Walker's plan of having a force assembled in Mysore, to give room for apprehension in that quarter, would be excellent, if we had troops in Malabar to stand even upon the defensive, or to make such improvements in our roads and posts as are necessary to their security, and to give us the means hereafter of deriving a full advantage from them. But they are so weak in Malabar, their force is so dispersed, and it is so difficult to persuade the commissioners to allow it to be collected, that I am afraid we shall suffer in Cotiote if we should not be able to send thither this reinforcement. However, Mysore is the first object, and if Purneah cannot stop the Nairs, the 12th and 2nd of the 5th must.

I hope to be able to march on the 22nd. Dhoondiah is in a bad way; his people are starving, are leaving him, and reproach him with their misfortunes. He retorts upon them, and desires them to give their wives and daughters to the Europeans, whom they are afraid to fight. This is the report, and that the Patans have left him.

All my arrangements are made, and in a few days I shall press upon him at all points at the same moment.

Believe me, etc. ' Lieut. Colonel Close.' ' Arthur Wellesley."[13]

By August Colonel Arthur Wellesley was travelling and campaigning many miles to the north near Dharwar and Hubly trying to pacify the surrounding districts in the aftermath of Tipu Sultan's defeat. The Mahrattas and Pindaris were making the most of their opportunities to take over parts of Tipu's former empire. In the middle of this important campaign Wellesley had also to take steps to prevent the Pazhassi Rajah from capitalising on the success of his attack at Montana.

"Colonel the Hon. A. Wellesley to Lieut. Colonel Close.

My Dear Colonel, ' Camp at Hoobly, 21st August, 1800.

I have just received your letter of the 18th. I am afraid that the attempt to establish a depot at Hurryhur, or on the Werdah, would ruin us entirely, as I should find that the brinjarries, who of course, like the other dealers, object to coming to such a distance, would lodge their rice at the depdt instead of bringing it forward. It would be impossible to frame any arrangement to prevent that, and the idea must therefore be laid aside, although it would certainly be desirable to have a depot, and the nearer the better.

If the dealers from Mysore do not like to come forward, it cannot be helped, we must do without them.

The loss at Montana was very great certainly; but not so much so as is represented by the commissioners whose letters I return. There is a post half way between Cotaparamba and Montana, called Pyche, which was abandoned, but since the roads have been made, at the particular desire of Sartorius, who had not troops to take care of it. My opinion is, that the Pyche Rajah will now withdraw his people from both those posts in Cotiote, where he has lost many men, and that he will direct his efforts to the Mysore side. If he does withdraw, they should lose no time in throwing in a further supply to Montana, and in making such improvements on the roads as will render the communication more easy in future.

I see no reason why all the troops that can be spared should not be immediately collected, be pushed forward to Cotaparamba, and employed to cover the working parties upon the road between the river and Montana.

That the battle to maintain contact with the Fort at Montana was a protracted one, involving several convoys being fought through from the coast is clear from the following letters sent to Major Holmes during the autumn of 1800.

Brigade-Major Spens to Major Holmes.

" Cananore, Oct. 1, 1800. " Sir, — I am directed by Col. Sartorious to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 29th ult., and to convey to you his most warm thanks for having, with so much judgment, with the detachment under your command, overcome every difficulty in executing the arduous and severe service of the last relief of Montana: and he begs you will make known, in the most public manner, to Captains Baird and Howden, and to all the officers and men of your detachment, his sense of their persevering exertions on this trying occasion, and which he will have great pleasure in reporting to the Hon. Colonel Wellesley.—I have," &c.

Arthur Wellesley's troops were under significant pressure maintaining the forts that Wellesley had commanded be set up. It is clear that several actions took place in the months after August 1800.

The Hon. Colonel Wellesley to Colonel Sartorious.

" Camp, 10 miles south of Kopal, Nov. 15, 1800. " I also request that you will communicate to Maj. Holmes that paragraph in the inclosed extract, which relates to him. I am concerned that his health should oblige him to go to Bombay; and I request you will give the enclosed letter to the Gov. in Council of that settlement."

Extract (referred to above) of a Letter from the Chief Sec. to the Government of Madras to the Hon. Colonel Wellesley.

" Fort St. George, Nov. 7, 1800. " I have had the honour of receiving your letter of the 13th ult. with its enclosures, and am directed to express to you the satisfaction of the Right Hon. the Gov. in Council at the conduct of Maj. Holmes, and of the troops under his command, in the last relief of the post of Montana."

The Hon. Colonel Wellesley to the Hon. the Gov. in Council of Bombay,

Camp, 10 miles south of Kopal, Nov. 15, 1800. " Sir,—As I understand from Col. Sartorious that Maj. Holmes is about to leave Malabar, and to join his corps at Surat, 1 take this opportunity of expressing to you my high sense of the service which he has rendered to the public during the time that he has commanded the troops in the Cotiote districts. I have already taken an opportunity of mentioning, in favourable terms, his services to the government of Fort St. George ; but, as Major Holmes is about to be more immediately under your orders, I take the liberty of recommending him to your favourable notice.

(Signed) " Arthur Wellesley."

Montana can be located by following the route descriptions, as also can the approximate location of the Pyche Post.

Figure 4. Probable location of Montana Fort.
Please click onto image for a larger image.

Ward and Conner describe Montana Fort as follows: -

"Montetana N.E. 8 1/2 miles from Canote was once a Military Post, there is a Redoubt on the summit of a low hill in good order but over run with wood, the inhabitants in the neighbourhood principally Nairs-several roads from the westward communicate here."[16]

That the battles to relieve Montana were protracted and fierce are apparent from the following paragraph in a much longer letter Arthur Wellesley wrote on the 10th of October 1800 to Lieut. Col. Close from Hubly. The French under Napoleon had landed in Egypt and were planning to march to India.

"I am more pressed than ever about troops. Lord Clive calls upon me to have a detachment ready to take possession of the Ceded province, and then to march to Poonah. Sir William Clarke and Uhtoffe swear that the French are coming from Egypt, and want all the native infantry I have got; on the other hand, the last relief of Montana cost us 154 men killed and wounded (most of them coolies, however), and they are crying out there because they do not see the 12th and 2nd of the 5th marching into Cannanore on the 30th September, on which day they left Seringapatam. My business is to get over these difficulties in the best manner I can, and what follows is the arrangement which I propose. In addition to every thing, I must also inform you that the fright which affects Sir William Clarke and Uhtoffe pervades Bombay, whefe, on account of the supposed danger, the 88th, which I expected in Malabar, is detained." [17]

Contained within the same letter is another fascinating paragraph where Wellesley describes the difficulties he is under due to the Pazhassi Rajah's attacks.

I now come to the most difficult part, which is Malabar. They say there is a rebellion in Wynaad, and we may hope, like Voltaire, that the Nairs of the Pyche Rajah may be strangled with ropes made of the bowels of those on the side of Yeman Nair: but still it is necessary to take measures for sustaining that post if possible. There is nothing that can be done, excepting to send into Malabar half of the 75th regiment from Mangalore. I gave orders upon that subject this day. Thus, then, I shall have provided for all the immediate calls for troops, excepting those dictated by the fears of an Egyptian invasion.[18]

Wellesley was coming under increasing pressure from the Bombay Government to release troops to take part in the Indian Army Expeditionary Force that would sail to Egypt to fight the French expeditionary force.

The Pazhassi Rajah was tying down scarce troops that are badly needed elsewhere.

So although Koothuparamba and Mattanur may seem sleepy country towns today, two hundred and ten years ago, they were at the centre of World affairs.

They provided a formidable training ground for the man who went on to become Britain's most important General, and one who would change the face of European for several generations.

[1] Brinjarries, Indian corn merchants, who used pack cattle to transport corn and other grain across much of India. These merchants were able to mobilise many hundreds and sometimes thousands of cattle to move grain. The support of these merchants was vital to the success of any 19th Century army in India. The EIC ability to pay these Brinjarries when their enemies lacked available ready money often determined the outcome of these 19th Century conflicts.
[2] For more on Anjarakandy see
[3]James Welsh, Military reminiscences: extracted from a journal of nearly forty years Published 1833, page 176.
[4] Lieutenants Ward and Conner, A Descriptive Memoir of Malabar, Published, 1906 & 1995. Pages 41 & 42.
[5] The dispatches of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington: Volume 1, Page 61. Published 1837
[6] Duke of Wellington: Volume 1, Page 524.
[7] The dispatches of Field Marshal the Duke of Wellington: Supplementary to the First, Second, and Third Volumes Relating to India, Page 59. Edited by Lieut. Col. Gurwood.
[8] Duke of Wellington: Volume 1, Page 519.
[9] platformed jungars, Pontoon ferries, made up of pairs of country boats fitted with a platform to carry guns or men and horses over these muddy rivers during the monsoon.
[10] Duke of Wellington: Volume 1, Page 524.
[11] "The East India Military Calendar, Volume 1. page 411. Originally published in 1823.
[12] Duke of Wellington: Volume 2, Page 137.
[13] Duke of Wellington: Volume 2, Page 142.
[14] Duke of Wellington: Volume 2, Page 143.
[15] "The East India Military Calendar, Volume 1. page 411 & 413. Originally published in 1823.
[16] Lieutenants Ward and Conner, page 41.
[17] Duke of Wellington: Volume 2, Page 183.
[18] Duke of Wellington: Volume 2, Page 185.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

The Development of the Forts at Tellicherry 1680 to 1750

Figure 1. A drawing of Tellicherry published in 1736, showing the fort as it appeared some years earlier. [Please click onto the image for a larger version.] Courtesy of the British Library.

This engraving is thought to have been based on a painting done in about 1721. It shows a stone built fort, however the fort is clearly shown to have four equally sized corner bastions, quite unlike the fort we can visit today, with its pair of diagonally opposed bastions.

I believe that this stone fort around the factory is the English fort referred to in the following account.

Captain Alexander Hamilton in his "A new account of the East Indies," wrote the following about Tellicherry, which he had visited several times between 1702 and 1723.

"In Anno 1702. I hired a Ship called the Albemarle, in Service of the new established East-india Company, to serve me three Months and an half on a Voyage from Surat to the Malabar Coast, and back; and having Occasion to call at Cannanore, I accompanied the Captain of the Fort and an English Factor from Tellicherry to the Court of Omnitree, Successor to the eldest son of the Samorin before mentioned, who died in his voyage to Mecca......"

"The next Province to Adda Rajah’s dominions is Tellicherry, where the English East-india Company has a factory, pretty well fortified with Stone Walls and Cannon.

The Place where the Factory now stands belonged to the French, who left the Muddwalls of a Fort built by them, to serve the English when they first settled there, and for many Years they continued so, but of late no small Pains and Charge have been bestowed on its buildings; but for what Reasons I know not, for it has no River near it that can want its Protection, nor can it defend the Road from the Insults of Enemies, unless it be for small Vessels that can come within some Rocks that ly half a Mile off, or to protect the Company’s Ware-house, and a Punch-house that stands on the Sea-shore a short Pistol-shot from the Garrison.

The Town stands at the Back of the Fort, within Land, with a Stone Wall round it, to keep out Enemies of the Chiefs making, for in 1703, he began a War that still continues, at least there were Folks killed in 1723. When I was there: and I was informed by a Gentleman of Judgement there, that the War and Fortifications had taken Double the Money to maintain them that the Company’s Investments came to.

The Occasion of the War, as I was informed, began about a Trifle. The Nayer, that was Lord of the Mannor, had a Royalty, for every Vessel that unladed at Tellicherry, paid two Bales of Rice Duty to him. There was another Royalty of every tenth Fish that came to the Market there, and both together did not amount to 20 L. Ster. Per Annum. The Chief either appropriated these Royalties to his own, or the Company’s Use, and the Nayar complained of the Injustice, but had no Redress. These little Duties were the best Part of the poor Nayar’s Subsistence, which made it the harder to bear, so his Friends advised him to repel Force by Force, and disturb the Factory what he could, which he accordingly did (by the secret Assistance of his Friends) for above 20 years. The Company are the best Judges whether the War is like to bring any Profit to their Affairs there, or no.

The established Religion of this Country is Paganism; but there are a few black Christians that live under the Protection of the Factory, and some of them serve for Soldiers in the Garison. They have a little Church standing within the outward Wall of the Factory, served by a Portugueze Priest or two, who get their Subsistence by the Alms of the Parish. And the English have Punch-houses, where the European Soldiers to Bacchus, and if thy want Devotion, which their Accounts can certify at Pay-day, they are forced to commute with their Officer, or undergo some wholesome Discipline or Chastisement."

I believe the fort in Figure 1, was built on the site of the original French mud fort.

The French colonial system was run by the French State unlike the privately owned English East India Company, and was centrally controlled by Colbert who had set up the "Compagnie des Indes" in August 1664. The company will have used its experience from other earlier settlements to aid it's development of the new settlement at Tellicherry.

It is possible that the first French traders at Tellicherry were led by Monsieur Dellon, as Robert Orme describes below ..

"V. Dellon, the physician, sailed from France in March 1668, and after some employment at the settlements on Madagascar and Bourbon, arrived at Surat in September 1669, from whence he sailed, in the beginning of 1670, with the orders to remove the French factory at Beliapatam to Tellicherry, where they established a house in the month of June. This was several years before the English settled there. In the way the ship stopped at Rajapore and Mirzeou, where the French" company had likewise factories. From Tellicherry Dellon was occasionally employed in their concerns of trade at Callicut, Tanore, and Chaly, and incidentally saw Bergerah and Cognally, which lie between Callicut and Tellicherry.In the month of June 1671, Flacour, the French agent, went from hence to settle a trade at Seringapatam, the capital of Mysore. Dellon intending to accompany him, went as far as the foot of the mountains, but was deterred there by the excessive violence of the torrents, and came back: Flacour persisted, and returned from Seringapatam in November. In January 1672, Dellon sailed from Tellicherry on his return to Surat: …."[2]

The French company used very much the same fort building techniques in all of its overseas colonies, and we can therefore compare French forts in India with those being built in Canada at around the same time, in order to get some idea of what the original French fort at Tellicherry would have looked like.

Figure 2. Fort Frontenac, built by the French on the shores of Lake Ontario in Canada.
[Please Click on the image for a larger version.][3]

Fort Frontenac occupies a very similar site, and had a very similar function to the French settlement at Tilcheri or Tilchery as the French called Thalassery. However instead of dealing in pepper, Frontenac was designed for trading furs with North American Indian's and to protect those goods before they were taken away across the river routes to the St. Lawrence and across the Atlantic to Europe.

The similarity in size and layout of Fort Frontenac with the early fort that I believe existed on the site of the modern bazaar at Thalassery and which is shown in Figure 1 can easily be seen.

The factory buildings and warehouses can be seen inside the walls in the Frontenac drawing, as well as their associated bastions.

On the enlarged image of the drawing of Frontenac it is also possible to see a mixture of walls built out of timber stockades, and walls being re-built in stone, which were at most risk of being attacked. I believe the same process occurred between 1690 and 1725 at Tellicherry.

I believe the 1720's painting shows that the English had replaced the original French mud walls and wooden stockade with stone walls, probably after 1703 and probably as a response to the Nair's attacks.

William Logan names this Nair as the Kuragoth Nayar, and perhaps he should rightfully receive the title of the first resistance fighter against the English, and not Pazhassi Raja. On the 20th August 1708, the Northern Regent made over the site of the Fort to the English.

Royal writing from Prince Badacalamcuro of the Pally Palace, to the Honourable English Company in the year 883 (1708).

The fort of Tellicherry has been built at the request and entreaties made by me as a friend. To acknowledge the love and friendship which the Company bears towards me and my palace, I give and make over the said fort with its limits to the Honourable Company, where no person shall demand, collect and plant. Our custom house will be obliged to give us what has been settled.

This day, August 20th, 883.[4]

The earliest surviving documentary evidence for the English settlement at Tellicherry is the first entry made in the English East India Company Factory Letter book dated the 24th October 1699, which suggests that the English had arrived in Tellicherry shortly before then.[5]

It is very likely that they initially made do with the old French mud walls until they had established that the settlement was a viable trading venture.

By 1708, the old stockades and mud wall had probably reached the end of there effective life, having rotted away or been eroded by the monsoon rains, and the HEIC was faced with replacing it. I expect that they reached an agreement with the Prince to ensure that their investment was on land that they had title to.

The hostilities with the Nair probably account for the lack of houses outside the walls of the fort and the compound between the fort and the beach in Figure 1.

I believe the tall open fronted building on the beach was probably the customs house, but it could just as easily have been the fish market.

Where was the Punch House?

Punch was the old English word for a fruit drink, and the English were here applying it to the Arrack or Toddy they encountered in India, which of course from it's potency was perceived to pack quite a punch. A pun that no doubt when down well with the rough and ready expats living in Tellicherry at that time.

I think the Punch House described by Hamilton is probably the building above the steps. At Fort St. David at this same period, these arrack houses were often supplied by Malabari distillers, working for European's who held the concession to sell the Arrack to the troops. These poor sick and homesick soldiers would often drink themselves into oblivion. The gun room sergeants were often allowed to brew Arrack themselves for sale to the newly arriving ships. These ships usually arrived in a three or four week period once a year, staying for perhaps four to six weeks.

The first days ashore must have been fairly wild in the Punch House, as all those thirsty sailors quenched their thirsts. How the poor soldiers must have wished that they could leave on those ships, like the transitory sailors, and many soldiers must have known that their chances of ever getting home again were very slight indeed.

For a long time I thought that the existing Fort was probably built on top of the site of the former French mud fort, but I no longer think that this was the case.

The French fort, and its earliest English successor structure was built primarily to defend against Indian enemies coming from inland.

The fort and its associated settlement had to be of sufficient size that it was able to protect the warehouses, which had to be large enough to contain sufficient trade goods collected over the course of a year to fill the holds several 400 ton ships arriving each season from England. It also had to be large enough to store food and ammunition to enable the garrison to hold out for nine or more months in case the settlement was cut off from supplies, until the annual fleet arrived to rescue any remaining survivors.

This means it had to be larger internally than the fort that survives today, which is quite small inside. There is also no real space for barracks inside the current fort. Where did the men live?

The French had moved out of Tellicherry, not because the English had forced them to move away, but because they had been able to negotiate for a much better site with the rival Raja at Mahé about five miles to the south. This site had a much better river for an anchorage, and was easier to fortify.

It was the British who had arrived last, long after the Dutch at Cannanore, and the French at Mahé had secured the best trading spots. It was the English East India Company who had had to take over the remaining and least favourable site on this part of the coast.

Even they had really wanted to set up to at Dharmapatam, but that was already occupied by the Bebeé of Arrakal, who at that stage was still powerful enough to keep out the Europeans.

In the early days of the 18th Century the French and the English at Tellicherry and Mahé had a gentleman's agreement to maintain neutrality towards each other, even if wars broke out in Europe between their respective countries.

However this was not always possible and by the 1720's the French had begun to build very substantial fortifications at Mahé which were much superior to any of the English forts in the region.

The French under Vauban, with long borders to defend in Europe, had had to build many huge forts during the late 17th Century and early 18th Century. They had developed military engineers and surveying schools, that were the best in Europe, and far in advance of anything the English possessed at that time. Some of these engineers and surveyors arrived in India during the 1740's.

Their highly detailed and very accurate drawings survive in large numbers in the Centre des archives d'outre-mer.

Many of these drawings are of Mahé, and one in particular extends far enough up the coast to show the Forts shortly before 1741 at Tellicherry. It is quite possible that this drawing had been prepared in case the French had the opportunity to attack the settlement.

The plan quite clearly shows that there was a large extension to the east of the fort that survives today, stretching out over most of the area currently occupied by the modern bazaar.

This fort extension contains many red blocks on the plan, which are I believe the houses the garrison lived in, and also the warehouses the pepper was stored in. This was probably a secure trading area, occupied by Portuguese and Mopilla merchants working as intermediaries for the East India Company. Groups of porters would be constantly coming and going bringing pepper and cardoman from the interior. There was probably trading going on with local representatives of the Rajas coming into this part of the fort.

Figure 3. An extract of a French map dated to 1741, showing the Fortifications around Mahé.
The map is especially interesting because it shows us that the fort was much larger than the structure that we can currently see.
Centre des archives d'outre-mer (CAOM)[Please click onto the image for a larger version.]

When you scale up the drawing and you superimpose it onto a Google Earth image, you start to find that many of the alignments formerly occupied by fort walls, are still present on the ground preserved in modern road alignments and property boundaries.

Figure 4. The Lines of the Fort from the 1741 French map superimposed
onto Google Earth. [Please click on image for a large picture.]

There seems to be a discernible sequence to the development of the Fort. I believe that the existing fort was built after 1723. It is quite possible that it was built in the 1730's in the face of increasing hostility from not just the Indian's but the French as well.

The original fort was criticised by Hamilton for not commanding the "Road". When he uses the word road, he doesn't mean a track on land, but he is using a nautical term referring to a place where ships could lay at anchor.

Most of the trading vessels on the coast were Pattimars and other coastal vessels of Indian origin. Many of these were under charter to East India Company officials acting in both their professional capacity, but also undertaking private trade on their behalf.

These vessels were at risk not just from the French, but also from European pirates as well as Indian fleets under Angria and others who routinely attacked passing coastal shipping.

These small vessels were between 20 and 200 tons in draught and could enter the bay and anchor inside the rocky reef, under cover of cannon from the raised fort batteries.

I believe that the fort we can currently visit was built as an artillery platform intended not so much to fight of Indian attackers coming from inland, as European landings from passing ships or attacks on the roads by Indian shipping coming along the coast from places like Geriah.

Figure 5. Showing the 1730's Fort. Courtesy of Jissu Jacob.

The fort we see today is built much higher above the surrounding ground than most forts constructed at that period e by Europeans, who tended to sink the walls down behind ditches in an attempt to make them less vulnerable to destructive cannon fire, that could soon cut a ramp and breach into an unprotected wall. It is also fitted with a Cavalier, to be able to dominate the surrounding area with fire in a more effective manner, than would have been possible before from a position further from the shore, and with lower cannon platforms.

Figure 6. Sketch of existing Tellicherry Fort, with a Cavalier on top of the bastion at the top right hand corner.

A Cavalier is a smaller bastion, sitting on top of the lower bastion, mounting a second higher tier of cannon. Every foot of elevation gained, gave a longer range to the cannons in the fort.

I believe the English in the settlement had also become concerned about the number of "Blacks and Portugeze" living in the older fort who might not always be reliable in the event of a serious attack, and had prepared the new fort to act as a refuge in the event of the town inside the earlier lower fort falling to assault, perhaps started by one of the columns of porters and merchants entering the gates ostensibly to trade.

That coastal attack was also a major concern is also illustrated by the Hornwork and Bastions that are also shown to have existed between the modern fort and the sea, which must have occupied the site of the recently restored churchyard.

I believe that the first French fort was built between 1670 and 1690 on the alignment shown in red. During the period after 1699 and before 1723 it was refaced in stone by the English, both to make it more secure, and to stop the continual erosion of the earthworks which must have occurred with every monsoon.

Figure 7. A Google Earth image marked up to show the probable development phases of the Tellicherry Fort. Red, French & English Forts, 1670 to 1723. Blue, English 1723 to 1735, Black outer works by 1735.[Please click onto the image for a larger version.]

The outer Hornworks on the site of the present graveyard may only have been built in earth and timber as they seem to have been replaced by a stone wall with crenellations by 1761.

Figure 8. Tellicherry drawn from the deck of the ship America on the 17th March 1761. [Please click onto the image for a larger version.]

Figure 9. The 1761 drawing marked to show the existing surviving bastion and the flagpole, as well as the outer crenellated wall, that had replaced the Hornwork in the 1741 French Map.

Figure 10. A drawing showing the presumed line of the Crenellated Wall shown in the 1761 drawing. [Please click on the image for a larger version.]

It is possible that the line of the crenellated wall might have been preserved by the modern wall along the top boundary of the existing churchyard. The recently restored church is mid 19th century, and the crenellated wall had been demolished long before the church yard wall was built. However by the time the church was built, many hundreds of English and Europeans had already been buried in the graveyard.

It would have been logical that these graves and hence the graveyard should be just outside the line of the defended settlement, and yet still in a position where it was positioned under the eyes of the forts garrison to ensure that it was not vandalised.

It is also very likely that the foot of the crenellated wall was the place that the earliest graves were dug, and that this set the later boundary for the Victorian churchyard. Whilst there was a derelict church on the site of the existing one, which was replaced, it may not have been very well constructed. The 18th Century was not a particularly religious time in Britain, and most garrisons of East India garrisons at this time probably held services in the gun room as was the case in 1750's Fort St. David.

Figure 11. Photo showing the recently restored wall at the top of the churchyard. Photo courtesy of Jissu Jacob.

Oddly enough, it is very probable that none of the forts described above saw any action, apart from defending against the early attacks of the gallant Nair in the 1720's.

By 1730 the settlement had moved inland by several miles, and an outer ring of forts was built.

It was these forts that held off the Mysore Armies during the invasion by Hyder Ali, that I will describe in another post in the coming weeks.

[1] Captain Alexander Hamilton, "A new account of the East Indies," volume 1,published in 1727, pages 296 to 298. Alexander Hamilton.
[2] Historical fragments of the Mogul empire: of Morattoes, … Robert Orme, published 1782. Section 1. xii
[3] From a Wikipedia article at , the image can be found at See also for a very similar fort at Niagara also in Canada, which also evolved over the same period, in much the same way as Tellicherry did.
[4] From "A Collection of Treaties, Etc., Relating to British Affairs in Malabar, by William Logan, published in 1879, 1891, 1951 & 1989, page 2. The original was in Portuguese and the Portuguese text can also be found in Logan.
[5] William Logan, Malabar Manual, page 347.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Malabar Rajah’s in 1797.

Walter Ewer gives us a very interesting description of the Rajahs along the Malabar Coast in 1797. Many of these gentlemen would be closely involved in the Pazhassi Rajahs struggle with the East India Company.

“It may not be amiss to give a rough statement of the Revenues, & Force of the Northern Division of the Malabar, & of the Characters of the Rajah’s, as far as I have been able to get at them.

Cherical Rajah. High spirited & independent, collects his own Country, pays regularly, & will not suffer any of our Courts. Can raise about 6500 fighting men, & pays nett 1,20,000 R’s.

The Choolia Nambyar his vassal, & commands about 2000 of the above warriors, this man is troublesome to the Rajah’s wants to make himself independent of him, to collect his own District & to pay the company. He is not to be trusted, at the Death of the Rajah, an event likely to happen soon. We may find ourselves under the necessity of allowing this, to keep him quiet, as in case of Refusal, he may perhaps draw his sword. Cotiote Rajah [2] at present in Rebellion 3500 men – 60,000 R’s.

Cartenaad Rajah. This is a very gentle well disposed man has lately succeeded his Brother. Some of his nambyars are powerful, want to be independent of him & collect themselves for the Company. The Bombay Government have listened too much to them, had this man the spirit if the Cherical, he wou’d soon settle the Business.

The Eddycherry Nambyar. One of his vassals has always been very troublesome fellow. Tippo kept him in irons at Seringpatam, & only released him in order to plague the English, he is too much at Tellicherry. The Protection of his Nambyars against him, the countenancing the impertinence of such a man as Murdoch Brown, & such insults, are the first foundation of a Revolt, & though the Rajah himself is a very mild & good tempered man, he is surrounded with high tempered chiefs. One of his Ministers, whom I saw with him cover’d the Right Flank of Gen’l Abercrombies Army against Tippoo. 5000 men, 100,000 R’s. We hold Courts in his Country.

Koormenaad Rajah. Older Brother of the Cotiote, a Cunning Villain, ready to do anything to avoid paying his Revenue. He collects the Wyanard, a fine Country from which we have never received anything. Mr. Peile made an agreement with this man to pay for 2 years due 15,000 R’s. for 1797, 20,000 for 98, 30,000 for 1799. 35,000 R’s. In all a lac, for the 5 years lease, but the Commrs interfer’d & nothing more has been heard of it since. We hold Courts in his Country, but they are not attended to. 2500 men, R’s 64,000 per annum.

Coorg Rajah This is a very powerful Prince, quite independent he pays us a Tribute to be under our Protection but we have no controul over him. He is much attached to the English. Considering the very great assistance he gave us against Tippoo we ought not, as a generous Nation, to have accepted a paltry sum, from a faithful ally. He is very rich, & has money in the Bombay Treasury: his number of troops is not known but is considerable. He pays per annum R’s. 24,000.

The Malabar Rajah’s in 1797.

Fighting men
Cherical Rajah
Catenaad Rajah
Tillicherry & Randaterra Company
Irenaad Nambyars as always
dissatisfied & ready to revolt
Narrangole a fortified estate
in Irvanad
Pyernullah Nayrs
Wild people to the Comp’y
Polwye to the Comp’y
Kalye & Mahe taken from the Fr
about 10,000 R’s

Customs about
Bibbee of Cannanore
French Rps
Rs 547000

It can be seen from the above account that the Pazhassi Raja was not the only Raja who was giving concern to the East India Company at this time. He was also not the most powerful of the Rajahs controlling only about 3,500 armed men.

The role of the new courts and the attempts by the Commissioners of the East India Company to remove the administration of justice away from the local Rajahs can also be seen as the cause of a growing concern amongst the Rajahs who had previously been the arbiters of justice in their communities.

Ewer wrote...

We do not sufficiently consider the situation of the Rajahs, nor are they treated by us with proper respect. By suffering them to be insulted by clerks & schoolboys, we alienate their affections from us, & the Rajahs, who is not the immediate object of their insolence, feels for his neighbour, depends upon his Time coming soon.

A Prince less haughty than Tippoo, would avail himself of our ignorance & want of policy, & court their alliance: by which means, he wou'd make them his frontier against us, instead of their being ours against him. We know that he furnishes the Cotiote Rajah with ammunition.

Were the four Rajahs of Cherical, Cotiote, Caaomenaad - Kourmenaad to unite, the whole of our Indian Force could not conquer them.

By scarificing some Thousand lives, we might march through the Country & destroy Villages, Houses, but we can never can subdue it, it is covered with a Jungle almost inpenetrable, & the Roads are scarcely passable in wet weather. Two Bullocks cannot go abreast, by which means different parts of the Army, are at great distance from each other, entangled in the wood, which although so thick as to impede the Passage, is not high enough to afford shade to the sun, a fatal enemy. During 6 or 7 months of the year all Military Operations must cease, as the rains will not admit them.

The wisest & most humane Method wou'd be to give up the Country to the Rajah on certain conditions, & allow them to govern as they think proper, by which means we shou'd acquire their esteem & affection; We have already tried how Unavailing Force is, & seen what little impression has been made on the Cotiote Rajah by an Army which wou'd have frightened Tippoo. Its efforts have been confined to burning two or three good Houses, & the Villages of Peasants. But while we are distressing our Enemy, we are ruining ourselves, by the great expense we are at."

Many on the British side of the conflict had significant doubts about its legitimacy as well as the sense in going to war with the Rajah. But like so many wars this one soon spiralled out of control.

[1] British Library, OIOC IOR H/438. Folio 167. Papers Walter Ewer 1796 – 1799
[2] The title given to the man we now know as the Pazhassi Raja.
[3] British Library, OIOC IOR H/438. Folio 170. Papers Walter Ewer 1796 – 1799

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Was the Pazhassi Raja Set Up? Part 1.

Sepoys in the Uniforms Worn By Madras Presidency Troops During the Pazhassi Raj Insurgency. [1]

With the defeat of Tipu's army in 1792, the local Rajah's had expected that the British would return to their settlement at Tellicherry, and to resume trading as they had previously done following the wars that had occurred over the previous century.

What they had not appreciated, was that the East India Company was no longer just a trading company, as it had formerly been.

Since changes carried out under Lord North's administration, the East India company had become effectively an extension of the British Government; in effect a state controlled company.

It had changed from a company whose main activity was trading, into one that acted more like a government organisation that increasing paid for itself by revenue or tax gathering, rather than from profits made it had formerly made from trade alone.

It's new directors included men increasingly drawn not from senior returned East India Company officials, but from senior members of the political elite and the ruling classes in Great Britain who were less familiar with India and trade than their predecessors. Their expertise was in with taxing populations and ruling either their own landed estates back in Britain, which were populated by largely compliant tenant farmers, or on behalf of an established and widely accepted government.

The companies new directors also wished to apply the lessons and company procedures that had from their point of view been successfully developed in Bengal between 1760 and 1800 to exploit the taxation of farming and other revenues, and to apply them to the newly acquired territories in Malabar.

The following Political Letter written by Mr. Duncan, describes events in 1792, and the Pyche or Pazhassi Rajah's growing role within the region.

“"That during the war, the People of the [Pyche] Raja seized on the Wynaad as part of their ancient Territory and were at the Peace in possession” and the lasted quoted address to Bombay of June 1792 continues to state “That on the 6th of May 1792 a message arrived from Tellicherry from the Raja of Cotiote, stating that an officer from Tippoo had sent to the person in charge of Wynaad to deliver it up as the right of Tippoo and that similar letters had been sent by the same person to the Raja making the same demand.” Mr. Farmer not having then left Tellicherry, the Chief and Factor requested his ideas and directions on the subject, when he advised that the Raja should instantly send word, that the country being yielded to the English, he the Raja, could give no answer till he had informed the Chief of Tellicherry, but that, as Wynaad was certainly not including in the Grants of Tippoo, it could not consistently be retained, and that therefore the Raja must order the People to withdraw to the Boundaries of Wynaad, there taking a stand, and advising the Chief; if Tippoo’s people presumed to encroach beyond that boundary which the Bombay Commissioners then believed we had no claim to the Eastwards of, in so much that on the 9th of August they wrote to Tippoo’s Subahdar Hurry Purwae apprizing him “that as at the time mentioned by the Treaty we do not find Wynaad to have been under Calicut, we do not mean therefore to detain what was granted to the Company;" [2]

The situation was not made any easier for the local East India Company administrators, by the power struggle that was going on inside the local Rajah's family. There were several local ruling families each controlling small semi-independent and competing areas or Taluks.

The Pazhassi Raja was not the paramount ruler in any of these areas, but was a subsidiary and junior aspirant to one of these territories. The senior Rajah was his uncle, and as events were to show, the younger man was impatient for power, and was seen by more senior members of his family as a threat to their positions.

Over the coming years the Pazhassi Raja was to prove himself to be the most effective war leader amongst the local ruling families.

When the war with Tipu Sultan broke out in October 1789, the other more senior Rajah's had either fled into the Tellicherry settlement or travelled down to Travancore.

They had abandoned their subject peoples to their fate. This had lost cost them much of their former moral authority.

The Pazhassi Rajah had acted with more courage and had taken to the jungles on the slopes of Ghats with the younger men, and allied to the East India Company he had waged a war of ambush and raids on the Mysore troops and supply chain travelling along the Gun Roads Tipu had built to subjugate the Wayanad and Malabar.

A Nair photographed shortly before 1909. The Nairs were the main source of warriors in the early years of the uprising. These fierce warriors were in many ways similar to Gurkhas in the way they fought, having their own characteristic curved bladed knives.[3]

These senior Rajah's and especially his uncle were to play a double game over the coming years, as they sort to restrict the Pazhassi Rajah's influence and power which was beginning to challenge their own positions.

Duncan recognised the existence of this growing power when writing on 2nd March 1797 about events in Malabar. In this letter Duncan describes the man we now know as the Pazhassi Rajah,as the Cottiote Rajah.

“the late untoward Events in one of the Northern Districts in the Malabar Province which it grieves me sorely, to have to relate, howsoever much they may appear to have primarily and in a great degree unavoidably flown, from the Rivalry and Dissentions between two Cousin Germane called the Raja’s of Coorimnad and Cottiote, the former progress and fortunate issue of which stand already narrated in the Revenue letter from this Presidency of the 18th of December last, as does their unexpected Renewal in my late address to the Secret Committee of the 12th of January of which a Duplicate is herewith sent—“

“2 You will Gentlemen already know from the first report of the Commissioners that all the Malabar Rajas feel and have indeed all along felt rather uneasy under the degree of Restraint and Submission that we have since the Peace with Tippoo Sultaun endeavoured to subject them to, among these none has been so turbulently impatient all along as the Raja of Cottiote, otherwise called for distinctions sake, and as being indeed his more proper designation the Pyche Raja, one of the members of the family of the Raja’s of that District who having during the late War with Tippoo remained in the Jungles when his other & Senior Relations fled for refuge to Travancore acquired thereby such a footing in the affections of the people, that even after his services returned at the Peace he maintained his influence, so as to have been considered by the first Joint Commissioners from Bengal and Bombay & Treated as the effective or at least the acting Raja, at the same time that, on his behalf & with his consent they settled most or all of what related to his District with the Raja of Coorimnad the son of his Mothers sister (all heirship amongst these Chieftains going in the female line) and who whom as his senior, he professed at all times the greatest deference so as to consider himself to be only the manager under his orders; but yet his conduct was on the whole so turbulent & refractory that in the year 1794 Mr. Stevens then the Supravisor concluded the five years settlement of the Coltiote District not with him but directly with the Coorimnad Raja his relation as being at the head of the house of Cottiote whereas there are several between him and the Pyche (By misnomer called by us the Cottiote Raja) in order of succession not withstanding which the Pyche Chieftain has ever since the conclusion of this quinquenial lease proved extremely restless and jealous that it became soon after my entering on my present charge a serious and pressing consideration how to proceed in regard to him, in as much as he forcibly prevented the Coorimnad’s making the Collections under the quinquennial lease, to such a degree that the latter declared he could not pretend to go on with them without a force of 5 or 600 men of our Troops, in view to all which and also to enable us in pursuance of a Recommendation to that effect, from the Bengal Government to bring him (the Pyche) to account for his conduct in having put some Mapillas of his own Authority to Death, the commanding officer on the coast (General Bowles) was not only instructed to afford the Coorimand Raja the necessary support – but it was left to the last mentioned commanding officer and to the acting Supravisor Mr Handley (comprising the Civil and Military Superior Authority on the spot) to consider whether it might not be advisable in view to saving effusion of Blood if the Pyche Raja’s person be secured so as to prevent his protracting an insurgency by betaking himself an insurgent to the Jungle.

To add to the Pyche Rajah's difficulties, was that fact that he was not just opposed by the equivocal and often hostile attitudes of his older relatives, but also by the private money making activities and interests of messr's Wilkinson, Handley, Stevens, Rivett, Torin and Brown, the local officials of the East India Company based in Tellicherry, that were diametrically opposed to his.

The land the Pazhassi Rajah controlled around his village was one of the best possible areas for the production of pepper. Most of the routes to the other pepper producing areas crossed his domain. They had to get rid of the Rajah if they were to capture his profits for their own personal gain.

The salaries paid to all East India Company officials except the most senior ones, were barely sufficient to cover their expenses.

Custom and practice throughout the 17th and 18th centuries had allowed EIC officials to engage in private trade (known as the Country Trade)in order to make up the difference, as long as it did not involve voyages back to Britain. By the late 18th Century many civilian officials were making fortunes. If they survived to retire as Nabobs, they were able to remit large sums of money back to Britain. Such was the size of some of these sums returned to Britain, that the returning East India Company officials were believed to have bought as many as 84 seats in Parliament that first brought Pitt the Younger to power.

Pitt was the grandson of a former East India Company Official from Madras.

This growing "Indian" influence was too much for the established authorities back in Britain, who were in danger of losing their political power and patronage to the "Indian" lobby.

They sort to prevent such high profits being made, or at least to control who had access to them, by appointing politically acceptable officials directly to the most senior posts, thereby cutting away routes to these posts for most career East India Company officials.

By 1797 it was becoming much harder for men like Wilkinson, Handley, Rivett, Torin and Brown to make money in places like Bombay. A World War was being fought against France, trade was depressed.

Pepper Growing on Vines in the Wayanad. The ultimate cause of all the conflict.

Torin, Wilkinson and Rivett lobbied to move to Tellicherry where they hoped to engross the pepper trade for their own personal gain. They had had their attention drawn to the area by Murdoch Brown and by the profits they had been making by selling English guns to Tipu Sultan via the French port of Mahé. [5]

The Board of East India Company also desperately needed to try to recoup the cost of the war with Tipu Sultan, if it were not to reduce dividends further. It therefore decided that it had to tax the newly conquered territory in Northern Malabar.

For this it was necessary to take over the lands, or more importantly a significant share of the revenues that had formerly been paid to the local Rajahs, by the farmers and villagers occupying these districts.

Before Tipu's invasion of the Malabar, the East India Companies territory at Tellicherry had only extended about four or five miles inland, and along a narrow strip of land stretching from the outskirts of Cannanore to the southern edge of Mahé.

After previous local wars, although the British had often fought as allies with local Rajah's against other Rajah's and or against the French and the Dutch, they had not taken over significant stretches of the territory that they had been able to secure with their local allies during the course of these wars.

The local Rajah's appear to have expected that once Tipu was beaten back out of their lands, they could resume their former rule as before, and without any loss of revenues.

This time however it was different. The East India Company had expended massive sums of money, all of which had to go onto the overhead, and which would wipe out dividends for years to come. Having fought the war ostensibly on behalf of the local rulers, they believed that the local rulers and their communities ought to be made to pay back the cost of the war.

The EIC sort to ascertain the likely revenues that Malabar could provide in order to repay the cost of both the provinces administration, as well as of the war, by setting up a Commission.

Walter Ewer described the commission in the following terms.

This country is under the Government of a Commission, who execute the Office of Supervisor.(Messrs Wilkinson, Rickards and Col. Dow)

Without a comment on the abilities of these gentlemen, I shall give a short account of their proceedings. I must however mention, that the Chief is Mr. Rickard’s. A gentleman of only 7 years standing in the service, whose greatest merit seems to be, that he has found out the weak side in Mr. Duncan whose Confidence in him appears to be unbounded.

In my opinion the Commission itself is a Disgrace to a Civilised Government, it is a Commission of Enquiry, parading the Country, petitioning for, and encouraging accusations; a country whose natives are ignorant or regardless of an oath; what must be the astonishment of the Impartial Traveller, when he finds that a Junior is employed to invite Charges against his Superior, & that the Judge expects to succeed to the Station of the Criminal, on his Conviction! I shall take no notice of the loss the Company has sustained, of the services of some very able young men, as an investigation is likely to take place.

But this, and; the loss of Revenue both of which are the Consequences of the Conduct of the Commissioners, are Trifles in Comparison with the Miseries of War. How far they are concerned in these calamities the following Extracts from the Diary will shew.

Whilst it must be recognised that Walter Ewer was a stern critic of the administration of Governor Duncan, and that it is possible to find other accounts of the Commission that speak just as highly of its activities, I believe that subsequent events will show that Ewer correct was correct in his assessment.

This situation was made worse by the corruption being undertaken by several of the commissioners, including Messrs. Stevens and Handley.

"Towards the middle of December 1795 Mr. Stevens, Senior, resigned the Supravisorship and was succeeded by Mr. Handley, and at the same time charges of corruption and bibery were brought before the Governor, Mr. Ducan, by the Zamorin against Messrs. Stevens, Senior, J. Agnew, and Dewan Ayan Aya, a Palghat Brahman for extorting a lakh of Rupees."[7]

The level of mismanagement and corruption is clear from the following report by Ewer.

"This province will be ruined by the Commission of Supravision if continued; as the salary is good, & the station honourable, everyone who has interest at the Presidency will exert to get down here, without considering whether he is qualified for the Station. Not to mention that the Expense is double that of the Supervisor. Gentlemen who have spent most of their Time at Bombay Contract a Habit of Contempt for the Natives, as they converse with none there, except Persee, or Hindoo Merchant’s & when they come down here, they don’t know how to make a Difference, between the Sneaking Persee, who money is his God, & who would sell his soul; & suffer every indignity for Profit, & the Independent nair, who never quits his arms, who seeks no Happiness beyond the Chace, his Liquor & his Woman. The Commissioners began their career of Tyranny, by seizing the Zamorin, whose ancestor’s were the most Powerful Princes on this Coast, a poor helpless old man; & they escaped the Punishment such an act deserved, through the astonishment of his attendants at the audacity of it. Encouraged by impunity they attempted to treat the Cotiote Rajah in the same manner, they attacked and plunder’d his palace, but could not seize his person; about 60,000 Rp’s were carried off by the Troops, besides Jewels & other things. Only 18,000 Rp’s have been restored. This has been followed by an engagement, if it may be so called in which we lost more men, than Lord Cornwallis at the Battle of Seringapatam. And our losses would have been still more considerable, had it not been for the generous forebearance of the Enemy who suffer’d several different Parties to retire un-molested. Besides the sacrifice of lives, the Revenue of the disputed District for 20 years to come, will not pay the Expenses of the War. The correspondence of the late Commissioners will shew how unfit they were for their stations. Nor does the President, now returned to the Board, to take his seat as a member of Council at Bombay, (Mr. Rivett) Shew more sense than his predecessors: While the Governor is endeavouring to settle the Dispute by Negotiations, while Mr. Peile the Superintendant, whom I have accompanied on the Expedition to the Cherical Rajah (who as a friend of both Parties, is trying to persuade the rebel Cotiote to visit the Govn General) is waiting the return of a messenger from Cotiote, we receive from Governm’t publick minute of the Commissioner complimenting the Gentlemen of the Service for their activity, & calling the Rajah a despicable or contemptible Chieftain. Such language is not much calculated to forward a negotiation with a man who at this moment is hesitating whether he shall trust himself in our hands."[8]

That this contempt for the local rulers and corruption was not the settled policy of the East India Company Directors or Governor Duncan is clear. The most experienced and one of the longest serving officials on the Malabar Coast, Mr. Peile the Northern Superintendant on the coast was working hard to reach agreement with the Pazhassi Rajah, and on several occasions they were thwarted by the active opposition of the corrupting influence of Messrs, Torin, Wilkinson, Brown, Handley and Stevens, often aided and abetted by the Rajah's uncle.

This is clearly demonstrated in the following letter.

Dear Sir
near Barrygurry Malabar April 24 1796

I have much to say to you about the affairs of this Province, but I have not time at present, as I am on a Journey, the Albion for England is expected in a day or so at Tellicherry, trusting you will keep my information secret, I give you my opinion without scruple, & have as little Hesitation in mentioning Names for the same Reason. I am now with Mr Peile the Northern Superintendant, in the Territory of the Cartenand Rajah, one of the most powerful on the Coast & am going with him in the course of the Day to his House 15 to 16 Miles off. The fatal error in all the Proceedings here, is that the Rajah’s have never been treated as gentlemen by the Com’rs enquire of Sir Robert Abercrombie, who is adored in this Country, how he behaved to them. I am afraid there is some underhand Work in this Business, & that we are in a Scrape; There is something very mysterious in Colonel Dow’s Transactions, he & the other Commissioners have quarrelled; in Short, there is nothing but confusion in the Civil Service.
I was in Hopes when I left Tillicherry, that something might be done by negotiation, & that I should have accompanied Mr. Peile the North’n Superint’t to a conference with the Cotiote Rajah. Mr. P is the only man in the Service, who dare trust himself with him, having always treated him with Civility & Respect. But, I have just heard from Tillich’y that it is determined that Sword shall decide the Contest. We must make Haste, for we have not above a fortnight, before the season closes. I shall only observe to you, we have so few officers, that the loss of a Dozen would be equal to a Defeat & any Accident to Gen’l Stewart would ruin the Army.
Orders have been sent to the Cherical Raja to furnish Troops, which he will do, with this observation, that there is hardly a man among them who has not Relations in the Cotiote Country, like orders have been sent to the Cootaly Nair, Who’s Sister is the principle Wife of the Cotiote Rajah. Time will show how much such Allies can be depended upon. You must pay but little attention to the accounts you get out of the Revenues of this Country, they may be of Consequence in Time, but, independent of the present Disturbances, such Tricks have been play’d with the Coin, as will bring heavy loss on the Company, which must now come out, besides this, little Dependence can be placed on arrears due above a year & a half, though they stand on Paper as Cash. The Spot where I now am, is all a garden, & produces everything, besides the advantage of being on the Sea Shore. Yet, though the Rajah & Superintendent, exert them selves to the utmost, the People are above a year in arrears. They are however telling them, that money we must have, or we cannot appear before the Governor, you must excuse my writing as, I am in the Midst of the noise of gunning.
I am Sir
Your most ob’t Servant
W Ewer
Rt. Hon’r Henry Dundas.

A few days later Ewer wrote yet another letter setting out the case very clearly.

Dear Sir, Tellicherry 25 Apr 1797.
Since I wrote the inclosed an Express arrived from the Governor to order Mr. P’s immediate Return to Tellicherry, to set out on some business to the North, in which I shall accompany him. The Result you will hear in Course. Allow me Sirs, to recommend this Gentleman to your notice, as whether successful or not, in the negotiation he has undertaken, he deserves attention for his Readiness in attempting it. Altho’ he is in a very good Situation at present, the want of Favor & Connections subject him to many Mortifications from his Juniors in the line & Service; & this fatal Commission, which if continued, will ruin the Country altho’ it has not driven him from the Province, as it has some other Valuable men, has often been a Clog to him, & frustrated his best endeavours, by interfering in his Duty, & thereby Lepering his Consequence in the Opinion of the Natives.
Mr. P. Is one of the oldest Revenue Servants on this side of India, but has been constantly superceded by people from every Department some of them his Juniors in the Service, He came out to India at the age of 30, & of course had more knowledge & experience of the World in General, than most Gentlemen who have been in the service that number of years, living retired, & not belonging to any set, he has formed no connections, & has nothing to depend upon, but his attention to his Duty. At the whim of the Commissioners, this Gentleman has been driven about the Province in all seasons, well or ill, & if he made any complaints it was resented by them, as a presumptuous Remonstrance, But now, in Time of Danger & Difficultly, he is the only Person we can look up to, the only man with whom the Refractory Rajah will treat, the only one who dares to go to him. Where are the haughty Commissioners?
Mr. Wilkinson, after residing a year & a half in the Province, a Time however long enough to set it up in flames, runs away to England. Then comes Mr. Rivett his partner in Trade, a merchant, Said to be a man of some abilities; but his stay here has not been sufficiently long for the Display of them. & Now Mr Torin, junior Partner in the same House succeeds to the Commission. So we see the merchant House of Rivett, Wilkinson & Torin of Bombay Governors of Malabar, every one of them totally ignorant of the Character & Persons of the Malabar Rajah’s & What is worse of the Respect due to men descended from a long Race of Princes. As to Col. Dow, I shall say nothing, his acts speak for him. I must however mention to you that all which happen’d to the Army, was foretold to me; some Time previous to the Accident, by a Gentleman at Bombay, while shewing me the maps. Mr. Spencer, Just appointed Senior Comm’r is a good natured indolent man thought by the Court unfit for Council, & now appointed to a station of tenfold consequence.
My private opinion is that these gentlemen who cannot be expected to know anything of the affairs of the Province (Mr. Torin having been commercial he resident only a few weeks, & Mr. Spencer but just arrv’d) are appointed solely that Mr. Rickards may have the whole management, he, in fact is the Supravisor, how far he is qualified, his Conduct will demonstrate. Some of the Comm’rs were so ignorant, that one asked if Paulghaut, a principle Fortress on Tippoo’s Frontier, was on the West Coast of Sumartra, & I myself saw a letter signed by two of them yesterday, about an attack & some houses burnt on the Island of Rhandaterra, a District about 7 miles from the seat of Government, with a River on one side. I beg your Pardon for troubling you with this long letter, but I think it right you shou’d be acquainted with the characters of the People employ’d in the Publick Service. I shall stay here till the Business is settled, or the Rains begin.
I am Dear Sir,
Your most obedient Servant.
W Ewer
2 Enclosures. [10]

The following paragraphs from the previous two letters are particularly significant..

"you must excuse my writing as, I am in the Midst of the noise of gunning."

"I myself saw a letter signed by two of them yesterday, about an attack & some houses burnt on the Island of Rhandaterra, a District about 7 miles from the seat of Government, with a River on one side."

As these show the start of the counter attack by the Rajah. It is highly significant that this attack falls on Rhandaterra, or Randattara as it is more normally spelt.

Randattara was the site of the new pepper plantation being started at Anjarakandi by Murdoch Brown.

This plantation was intended to grow pepper directly for the trade on lands mortgaged by the EIC and then when the payments could not be maintain, it was forfeited to the EIC who foreclosed on the local rulers a couple of decades before.

The Rajah knew full well that if this plantation succeeded, he would lose his pepper trade and therefore income. It had to be attacked.

In the next installment of this article I will explore the Rajah's response to these events, and set out the texts of some of the letters that passed between the Rajah, Governor Duncan, and how a faction of the local East India Company set about destroying any attempt at reconciliation with the Rajah for their own personal gain, and in clear contravention of the official East India Company policy.

[1] Plate C by Gerry Embleton, from Armies of the East India Company 1750 - 1850, Men-at-Arms Series 453, published by Osprey Publishing. See
[2] British Library, OIOC IOR F/4/32/894. From Extract Political Letter from Bombay.
[3] From
[3] British Library, OIOC IOR F/4/32/894. From Extract Political Letter from Bombay.
[5] British Library, OIOC IOR H/438. Papers Walter Ewer 1796 – 1799. Folio89.
[6] Malabar Manual By William Logan, Vol. 1, Page 511.
[7] British Library, OIOC IOR H/438 Folios 111. Papers of Walter Ewer 1796 – 1799.
[8] British Library, OIOC IOR H/438 Folios 6-7 Papers of Walter Ewer 1796 – 1799.
[9] British Library, OIOC IOR H/438. Papers Walter Ewer 1796 – 1799.